JANINE SHAMOS - Mar 16 2012 00:00

Ask yourself these questions: Do you sometimes find it difficult to take medication as it has been prescribed? Have you ever forgotten to take your medication? Have you ever stopped a prescription without telling your doctor? Have you ever wondered what the medication you have been prescribed is actually for and what side effects it may have?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you are not alone. Whenever patients get any kind of medication, the instructions are to "take it as directed", but do people know what that means and why it is important to take it properly?

Too many people do not stick to their treatment and drop-off rates can be as high as 50%. A United States survey found that patients with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure often took only 50% of a prescribed dose -- and half of them stopped their treatment within the first year. About 85% of patients stopped taking their cholesterol medicine after only six months. Of seven chronic-medication patients who received a script, six filled it initially, only four had it refilled, and by the fourth month only one person was still taking the medication. South Africa is no different.

"Non-compliance results in resistance and the worsening of symptoms," said Zane Wilson, founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).

Patients often do not fill initial prescriptions because they are not convinced they really need the medication. Many people forget to take some of the dose or forget to take their medication with them when they leave home or go on holiday.

Others do not take the medicine correctly. They share their dose, do not take it at the right time or store it inappropriately, which means the medicine does not work as effectively. Many, because they feel better or do not like the side effects, decide to stop taking their medication without consulting their doctor. "In the case of treatment for mental illness, abruptly stopping your medication often means the return of symptoms and a worsening of the condition," said Wilson.

Not taking medication correctly is risky and costly. In the US, 36% of kidney transplant losses are caused by patients not taking their medication correctly. Non-compliance can also lead to withdrawal and resistance. "Every time a patient stops taking certain medication, the dose may need to be adjusted before he or she can start it again to prevent side-effects," said Wilson.

Compliance with treatment increases when patients feel they are part of the decision-making process and when they understand what they have been prescribed and why.

Healthcare literacy is critical to compliance. Sadag runs an innovative patient medication compliance programme to help people diagnosed with an illness that requires long-term medication. It helps them to know what to expect and how to manage short-term, common side effects.

"This compliance programme helps to give patients a positive alternative to stopping their treatment and the support and motivation to be compliant," said Wilson. Sadag speaks to patients telephonically when they join the programme to get an idea of the treatment they are on as well as their concerns.

"For the first eight weeks, we send SMS reminders to take the medication, we motivate through SMS and provide access to brochures, counselling, skills and tips on handling side effects, as well as information about support groups," said Wilson.

Sadag's tips for compliance:

Discussing any questions or concerns you may have with your doctor and pharmacist helps to alleviate unnecessary stress, encourages you to stick to treatment and empowers you to take responsibility for your health.
Interested patients, pharmacists or doctors can contact Sadag. Telephone: 0800 753 379


Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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